What I Learned Working in Customer Service

I feel that my time working customer service has given me the opportunity to experience the best and worst that humanity has to offer. I started working roughly around my sophomore year of high school. Prior to that, there had always been other options such as babysitting, camp counselor or tutor. However, this was the first time I had a job with a set schedule and hourly pay. I vaguely remember being excited for the first interview, feeling more adult than I ever had, open and ready for the new experiences and possibilities joining the workforce would bring. Little did I know, working as a Cashier/Front of House at Chick Fil A brought little of the thrill or maturity I was hoping and much more of the struggles I would soon learn to associate with customer service. Needless to say, it was an interesting addition in lessons to my usual high school homework.

Working in customer service taught me that, as much as I hate to describe people in this way, many beings of the human race are simply a bit dumb. Perhaps as people they're not, but certain aspects of themselves might be. For example, working as a cashier at Chick Fil A, I remember in unnecessary and horrifying detail an argument I had with a middle-aged man over how we did not, in fact, serve “vegan chicken,” and we never had. And that if he had been ordering out Cobb Salad prior to this, the chicken he had been eating on that salad had always been and would always be actual meat rather than any substitute. Or, my strange and stilted conversation with a young woman over how no matter if she paid for the meal as a meal or each of the aspects of a meal separately (sandwich, drink and fries), it did, in fact, amount to the same amount of calories. 

Angry Leslie Knope Giphy

Working in customer service also taught me that no matter where or how far you go in life, there will always be those extraordinarily and confusingly unpleasant people to deal with. I would say that a large reason the people who tend to get fast food do so is because they lack the time for other slightly more complicated meals. Of course, it would make sense for this to make them impatient. However, there is a difference between normal impatience and demanding an entire free meal because their chicken sandwich came out in five minutes rather than in three. Or that requesting a new medium fries because they are “too cold” is perfectly fine until when they receive their new fries, the customer also suddenly decides that while they were waiting, their sandwich had also gotten “too cold” and thus needed a new one. Or other impressive forms of verbal abuse from shouting “They pay you for this?!” to the slightly creepier version of “Well, it certainly pays to look that cute in uniform, doesn’t it?” 

Working fast food also helped me understand that even people in the worst spots can be kind. I remember serving an older man once. He had been waiting in line for quite some time and was clearly having trouble standing comfortably due to his advanced age. I kept giving him offhand glances as I dealt with other customers, wondering if I would be able to make it in time to act as an impromptu support if his legs did eventually decide to give out. As he finally got to the front of the line, a young child’s shrieks rose above the bustle of the restaurants. “I want the cone. I want the cone now!” I remember him clinging to his mother’s legs, a young woman holding another child who was (blessedly) too young to speak or create such noise. She had been doing her best to shush him, but with all the self-righteous power of a hungry and completely unaware 8-year-old, the child continued to scream. Although this wasn’t particularly out of the ordinary, I was surprised when the old man stepped back and gave her his place, even smiling at the little boy as he went past. Even though it doesn’t seem like a huge deal, I just think it goes to show that even when people have their struggles, some are still good enough to go out of their way and help others who are also in a rough spot. 

Girls in the sunset Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

In general, I wouldn’t say I particularly enjoyed my time in customer service. It is literally a field in which you are paid to be as polite and accepting as possible while those you deal with do the exact opposite. However, I would also say that it has taught me some important life lessons and skills in dealing with these people because, sadly, whether you are working customer service or not, those who are dumb or mean will still exist and have to be dealt with. But that also means that those surprisingly wonderful people and the small wonderful moments they bring will also exist to balance things out.